The House of Representatives has turned into a shooting gallery of sorts following the election of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the Lower House. In recent days, many congress members have been trying their best to be as creative and vindictive as possible in verbally assaulting and berating the former President. The attacks have been so blunt that Arroyo has begun going to her office to go to work instead of staying on the floor where most – at least those who attend the proceedings – stay during the sessions.
While it is unlikely that anything would be able to absolve Arroyo in the eyes of history of the crimes and offenses that she has committed against the Filipino people, the constitution and other stakeholders in the country, it would be a bit too extreme to suggest that nothing good came out of the past nine years.
Despite the apparent corruption of the Marcos regime that lasted twenty years, a lot of people still say that life then was better compared to now. Sure, the degree of freedom was severely curtailed during the de facto authoritarian rule by the dictator but at least government services such as education was still running at a very good level of efficiency. A drive down Roxas Boulevard and the surrounding alleys would have clearly shown just how posh the area looked back in the 1970s. Marcos was instrumental in the construction of various edifices in the scenic road along the coast of Manila Bay. The Cultural Center of the Philippines still stands proud as one of the most prestigious performing venues in the country. Even the underutilized buildings like the Folk Arts Theater and the former Film Center still have the imposing and impressive façade that echo to a time of greater opulence and global prominence. And best of all – unlike virtually all politicians today – Marcos has never found it necessary to put his name on the buildings. That’s quite refreshing considering every school, arch and traffic sign now bears the name of a barangay captain, mayor, governor and congressmen.
Each State of the Nation Address (SONA) that former President Arroyo has had the privilege of delivering, she has been boldly proclaiming the great achievements of her administration. People have always been wary of the flowery words of Arroyo. No matter how positive economic indicators have been, most Filipinos have been concerned at just how little of the positive figures trickle down to the poorest citizens. While numbers have been good to look at for the economists and market analysts who peer into the figures show a strengthening economy, the quality of life of the average Filipino has not improved.
Here are the achievements of the Arroyo administration that may help what many Filipinos consider to be a corrupt and incompetent regime:
1. The “Strong Republic” Nautical Highway
During the earlier part of former President Arroyo’s term, the RoRo (roll-on, roll-off) network of ships and barges that link the highly fragmented islands of the Philippines was a prominent talking point in the president’s speeches. The ships have always been there and the geographic challenges but the supposed efforts of the president have helped in stream lining the network.
Many of the most populous cities and provinces outside of Luzon are located in the Visayas which is essentially a set of nearby islands unlike the relatively large land masses of Luzon and Mindanao. The project has allowed the nation to be more connected and has allowed for the greater connectivity in terms of trade and commerce; and to certain extend – tourism. Thanks to the nautical highway, it is now possible to take a bus from Cubao that goes all the way to Panay Island or even Davao City – one of the most southernmost urban centers in the country.
Despite the reach and scale of the nautical highway, it is still not something that is being used by a vast chunk of the population. It has been useful to certain demographics but relative to the growing population of the Philippines, it’s not something that touches the lives of many struggling Filipinos. The improvement in the regional businesses could help bolster the local commerce that could in turn have an indirect effect in job generation and increased chances of gainful employment.
2. Job creation
Arroyo has always had a mantra of creating one million jobs for Filipinos. The creation of jobs is done through the infusion of fresh capital in the form investments. Arroyo has gone on many international trips to secure the support of various companies and businessmen by making the country seem palatable and a worthy venue for their next business ventures.
All the jobs generated in a country during the course of a presidency would be reflected on the statistics of the country whether or not the head of state did something to actually increase the number. The working assumption is at the very least, the decisions and general “housekeeping” strategies contribute to having a business climate that is conducive to building the confidence of investors.
This is a fair assessment even if there are government agencies like Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) that are devoted to these goals and objectives. The president is the person who appointed people to these posts and by extension as the head of state, the successes of these cabinet members would also have to have an effect on the president. This is only a fair trade off since the failures of the cabinet members and the president to increase the number of jobs and keep the unemployment rates stable is to also reflect negatively on the chief executive.
In the case of Arroyo, various industries managed to have a boom during the last nine years. While some of the businesses have indeed taken a hit due to the global financial crisis and the golden era of outsourcing seems to be tailing off, the Philippines did get a lot of benefits from the many companies who have decided to set up shop in the country based on the promise of the Filipinos’ great technical skills and customer relation abilities. Whether you think these types of jobs are good in terms of forwarding the development of individuals is up for debate.
3. Conventional infrastructure
The Arroyo regime has also ushered in greater gains in terms of infrastructure in the country. In her administration, we have seen the emergence of many domestic and international airports like the ones in Bacolod and Clark – which the former president ended up naming after her late and former President Diosdado Macapagal. Gloria may not have been the visionaries that Ferdinand and Imelda were during the 70s with their goals of making world-class establishments and buildings but GMA has certainly tried her best to connect and interlink the various major towns in the country. The road conditions in between the farms and the actual market places were farmers could peddle their goods have always been a key talking point in various stump speeches of political candidates and government officials and Gloria seems to have taken this to heart. It may not have been perfect, but she certainly tried.
No road in the country better encapsulates this dedication to interconnection than the Halsema Highway that traverses the heart of the Cordillera region. This is an important passageway that connects the western gate to the mountainous Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) Baguio City with the other towns to the east in the provinces of Mountain Province and Ifugao; and to the north to the provinces of Abra, Apayao and Kalinga.
While there aren’t really a lot of people living in CAR, the area serves an important role in terms of fulfilling the produce requirements of the country. The cool climate in the Cordilleras makes it suitable for growing vegetables.
The Halsema Highway has always been a road that has heavily traveled by trucks and buses that shuttle goods and people across the Cordilleras. Despite the considerable traffic that it gets, it has always been at a relatively poor condition. The road has always been in a state of disrepair and back in the 1990s there were even parts of the highway that weren’t even wide enough to handle two vehicles at the same time. The sides of the highway didn’t even have barriers to protect motorists from falling off a ravine that’s around a hundred feet off the ravine.
The geographic location of the road makes it very hard to be repaired by the DPWH. With narrow roads, it is very challenging to bring heavy machinery and other land movers to the area. The road itself was also carved precariously along jagged mountainsides that make rockslides and landslides an everyday occurrence.
Typhoon Pepeng (International name: Parma) cause devastation last year when the typhoon lingered for over a week on Northern Luzon. The heavy rains caused a lot of landslides that isolated various towns along the Halsema to traffic. Buses that used to have seven to eight trips a day were limited to just two after the travel time lengthened to almost twice as long immediately after the disaster.
Surprisingly, the repairs on Halsema happened faster than the repairs on Kennon Road. The highway took less time to clear compared to the number of days that it required to reconnect the city of Baguio to the rest of the country. This allowed for the speedy arrival of relief to the towns along the Halsema – the Benguet towns of La Trinidad, Natubleng, Atok and Buguias as well as the Mt. Province municipalities of Bauko, Sabangan and Sagada.
The Arroyo administration also saw the construction of various strategically placed expressways in Southern and Central Luzon. The Star Tollway that cuts through the provinces of Laguna and Batangas connected the existing South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) that served as the lifeline of Southern Luzon to Manila. The Star Tollway allowed for the creation of a direct link from Manila to the busy sea port of Batangas city. The port of Batangas has traditionally served as an important jump off point for human traffic and goods to Mindoro, Western Visayas and even the island of Palawan.
These developments bring about a very interesting question however – should the President take credit for the constructed infrastructure during his or her administration considering that the factors that affect construction like the conceptualization, execution and maintenance of the infrastructure are things that are largely out of the President’s hands – at least indirectly. While it would be fair to say that the Philippines has never been more interconnected geographically in its history thanks to new nautical routes, expressways and new airports, it is also important to note that that development is to be expected unless there is some sort of fortuitous event that destroys the already existing infrastructure in the country like a natural disaster for instance. Yes, Gloria Arroyo did make the country develop to a level that made it easier to travel from one place to another – in support of her Super Regions idea that was revealed in a past State of the Nation (SONA) address – but that was exactly what was expected of her.
4. Holiday Economics
The typical Filipino worker or student would probably remember the Arroyo policy of moving holidays around for the sake of boosting local tourism to be the one shining example of the former president’s contribution for the betterment of society. Thanks to Gloria’s insistence that the holidays be moved to a Monday or a Friday to allow for a three-day weekend, many students and employees have been able to get a day of rest while a good number of Filipinos also used the opportunity to travel.
While the tourism numbers for the Philippines still pale in comparison with the rest of Southeast Asia, the Holiday Economics policy sure seems to have put Filipinos in the mood to travel. It probably is one of the few things that GMA has done that the new President – Noynoy Aquino – would be keen on continuing.
Despite the glowing reviews of the average person regarding the holiday economics concept, this has put a strain on business since the holiday status of certain dates obliges employers to double the salary of their employees. This is probably one of the less visible effects of the holiday economics concept.
5. The relatively peaceful and orderly elections
While there are still questions of electoral fraud and whether or not automation should be used again in future elections, it seems clear that the nation was more or less sold on the fact that the 2010 elections were largely cleaner than the controversial 2004 elections. Preliminary results showing the apparent big lead of Aquino over his rivals made it clear that he was indeed on his way to victory – the expected result of many Filipinos due to what the surveys were indicating a few days before the actual polls.
The vice-presidential race was a lot closer but that was also predicted by the people who did the surveys during the lead up to the election. Mar Roxas has already filed his electoral protest to the Electoral Tribunal and only time will tell if the case would even prosper at this level. It would be an uphill climb for Roxas since he has to prove that there was widespread fraud during the elections that has led to his loss. He would be treading a very thin line between proving the fault and fraudulent actions done during the election by his opponent and opponent’s supporters without casting to doubt the legitimacy of Aquino’s victory.
Let’s face it; none of these things would probably be the long standing impression that people would have when it comes to what the Arroyo administration did during the nine year window that it had to make changes in the country. Yes, there were achievements; but the man on the street would probably remember the less unsavory details of the regime. Corruption and the image of a corrupt government has always hounded Arroyo for the entirety of the last nine years despite being whisked into power by people who detested the criminal practices of former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada.
The very controversial victory that allowed Arroyo to extend her term in 2004 would also come into mind. People still remember how the Hello Garci scandal was kept under wraps and the Philippines continues to remain in the dark as to how such a manipulation of the electoral results were executed by high ranking officials of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC).
And then there were also deals that clearly put taxpayers on the losing end. The deal with Chinese company ZTE, the wrongful utilization of the fertilizer fund, the expensive road projects and other excesses by the government such as the dinner at Le Cirque would probably go down as one of the more iconic reminders of just how ostentatious spending got during the Arroyo Era.
Most important of all, the Arroyo administration would be remembered for the deaths of many journalists and other individuals who were felled by extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances. There has been a culture of impunity that has the average Filipino feel helpless against the abuses and the excesses of the Arroyo administration and while some of the offenses were terribly shocking, people have chosen to keep mum about it and just wait it out until the new administration came around. Changing this mindset of passive observance would be one of the biggest challenges that the Aquino administration would have to change.